Ant-Man is back for his third movie in the MCU, in which the Quantum Realm has grown even stranger, Janet is causing a lot of problems, Hank likes ants, Cassie has a suit, and Kang the Conqueror makes his big screen debut after first appearing in Loki.
So, for this movie, the Super Carlin Brothers, whose opinions I usually respect, said that you have to think of this movie as an Ant-Man movie and not an epic MCU movie like Infinity War. And I agree. Obviously, Quantumania was never going to be on the level of Infinity War, but it does set up the next main villain of the MCU, so you might have expected it to be a bit more serious. But, no, this is an Ant-Man movie, and it knows it, and Ant-Man means silly and off-beat, even when it gets into serious conflicts.
If you view Quantumania as an Ant-Man movie, the entertainment value is pretty good. It’s not perfect. The first half felt kind of unfocused, and I am still, several days later, unsure whether I liked the ending or not (which sounds harsher than it really is; I’ll explain later). Still, it was good overall.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
I feel like this movie actually needs some explanation…which usually is not the mark of a good movie, but in this case, it’s mainly for context in the larger MCU. The movie itself largely stands on it’s own. So, what’s going on here?
The Quantum Realm
In the first Ant-Man movie, the Quantum Realm was just subatomic space where, due to issues with the suits, you could get stuck after shrinking too small. In the second movie, Janet was stuck there for thirty years, which made me wonder what she was eating down there, but apparently “quantum healing particles” are a thing (there are a lot of silly things in Ant-Man, but I still think that’s the silliest), so they had a ready-made answer. But now, in the third movie, there’s an entire civilization in the Quantum Realm, and Janet said they just didn’t look “small enough.” What gives?
Well, first off, while Kang rules a vast empire by Earthly standards, there’s not much indication that it’s a zillion times larger than Earth, nor is there an indication that it just happens to be on the one dust speck where Cassie was looking, like Whoville. But this still works because when you go small enough, traditional notions of distance stop making sense, so it’s possible for the Quantum Realm to be kind of…everywhere.
But there’s actually a simpler explanation if you look to the comics. The MCU’s Quantum Realm seems to be equivalent to Marvel Comics’ Microverse, which also exists in a layer “beneath” our own. But the Microverse isn’t microscopic. Instead, it’s a normal-sized universe that’s accessed via quantum portals on subatomic scales. This also neatly explains why Scott still suffered the ill effects of becoming Giant-Man even though he’s supposed to be subatomic—he’s not.
MODOK, the “ultimate weapon” who acts (ineptly) as Kang’s right-hand man, actually was human in the comics, but he was a different character who was mutated into a giant head by a science experiment and first appeared as an enemy of Captain America. In Quantumania, however, MODOK is Darren, aka Yellow Jacket, the villain from the first Ant-Man movie. It’s never really explained, but it’s implied that he was turned into a giant head by the malfunctioning shrinking technology.
What’s not explained or implied is why MODOK is treated as the comic relief for the entire movie. He’s normally a pretty serious villain (as far as I know), but here, he spends most of his time ranting, being a lousy shot, and finally getting his butt kicked by Giant-Cassie. I mean, his character arc worked, but it seemed to go further afield from the comics than usual.
What’s Janet’s Problem?
Yeah, I’ve got nothing here. Why didn’t Janet tell her family anything about the Quantum Realm? Why was she so reluctant to speak Kang’s name even when he was obviously an immediate threat? This is one of those “You could have solved this in five minutes!” things, and I think it was the weakest point of the movie.
Kang the Conqueror
I don’t know much about Kang the Conqueror in the comics, so I’m mostly going off what I saw in the movie. We know Kang is personally very powerful and obviously very good at conquering. The variant Kangs and possibly the Exiled One personally have killed many Avengers-level teams. He Who Remains from Loki was a variant Kang who claimed to be trying to stop the others. The Exiled One in this movie claimed to be doing the same thing. And at the end, we saw the Council of Kangs, an army of hundreds (or more) of Kangs from across the multiverse, and that post-credits scene is what really sold him for me. The Exiled One was a powerful villain in his own right, but an entire army of copies of the main villain really feels like a Thanos-level threat.
(Interestingly, the Exiled One’s suit in this movie is Kang’s standard costume in the comics, in contrast to the Council of Kangs. The writers confirmed the Exiled One is definitely dead, so it’s not clear where that’s going.)
This is the part that I wasn’t sure about. It felt like it was right on the line between a lame deus ex machina and actually a really good narrative setup. In addition to his experiments with the Quantum Realm, Hank Pym has also created a colony of highly-intelligent ants. How? We don’t know; they’re just there. But he had them working his lab in the second movie, so it’s not crazy. At the climax of the movie, Hank reveals that the ants got sucked into some kind of time dilation and were able to undergo a thousand years of technological development instantly, and he comes in with an army of futuristic ants who curb-stomp Kang’s army and initially seem to kill Kang himself.
That all sounds like a cop-out for beating the ultra-powerful villain, but the thing is, they made a real effort to set it up. I did notice at the time (which is very important) the ants getting sucked into the Quantum Realm, and I wondered where they were going with it. And Hank was quite prominently getting some kind of signals on what I thought was a hearing aid, but must have been a radio earpiece, and it wasn’t clear where they were coming from. It was just enough setup that it made sense when the reveal came.
Except for the time dilation bit. That really was a cop-out. A full-sized colony of ants is large enough to account for the army that attacked Kang, and they were already tricked out with technology. The plot would have worked just fine without the time dilation bit.
But at the same time, I’m also cognizant that this is basically the same as the ending of Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, which (as much as people seem to love that book) I thought was very badly done and came completely out of nowhere. I’m trying to separate Quantumania from that, but I keep seeing just how close it came to making the same mistake.
This is my main problem with the ending of the movie, and that’s why I said it wasn’t that bad, since the rest of the final battle was pretty good. Still a little weird with that fake-out of Scott and Hope being trapped in the Quantum Realm until they weren’t, but that was relatively minor. In general, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is keeping to the Marvel standard and promises more interesting stories to come.
Oh, and one other thing: how can Scott be in multiple quantum states in “Schrödinger Box” (the probability storm) when he’s able to communicate with MODOK outside the box?!